Tag Archives: exercising safely

Fat Chick Rages: Don’t Teach Exercisers to Ignore Body Signals!

My dear friend Ragen Chastain mentioned on Facebook that she had gone to an enjoyable Zumba class the night before, but was dismayed the next day when she checked out the Zumba studio’s facebook page.  Apparently they posted an image stating: “Are You Feeling Dizzy, Sweating, Tired, Breathless? …  Good, Great Workout!!!”  I’ve posted my modified version below:

Not even going to take a chance this will get reposted without a little alteration on my part...

Not even going to take a chance this will get reposted without a little alteration on my part…

Okay, so let’s get started on how wrong this is.  Not a little bit wrong.  Not even a medium amount of wrong.  A Carl Sagan, galaxy-filled COSMOS of wrong.  This is not inspiring.  This is not cool.  This is irresponsible and dangerous.

This sign to me represents a culture where we learn to ignore the signals our bodies send as we work out.  This is about a culture of masochism, where the more pain and agony you endure during a workout, the closer you bring your body to the edge of absolute destruction during a workout, the better.  And as an exercise teacher this makes me absolutely crazy.  Because, the messages you receive from your body are the most important line of defense, the most important tool you could possibly use to keep yourself safe as you work out.

I don’t want to scare you.  Most people work out safely most of the time.  But there ARE risks associated with exercise.  If you have an underlying heart condition,  you are more likely to face a heart attack while working out than you are in your bed.  If you have issues with low blood sugar, they are more likely to surface when you are strenuously exercising.  If you are at risk for stroke, this is more likely to be an issue when you are taking an exercise class than when you are reading a book.  Again, the vast majority of the time, the vast majority of people exercise safely.  But when things do go wrong, they are often preceded by warning signs like excess sweating and severe exhaustion and shortness of breath and dizziness.  These are not indicators of a great workout.  These are indicators of a problem.  Exercisers ignore these symptoms at their own peril.

fatchickchirps.002-002As a fitness instructor, I remind my students over and over and over again that they must learn to listen to their own bodies.  I do everything I can to watch for visible warning signs and symptoms among my students.  But the first and most important line of defense is for them to recognize warning signs in themselves.  They will probably feel dizzy long before I sense that they look dizzy.  Therefore, it’s my job to create an environment where they feel safe caring for themselves.  Every time a new person comes to my class we have a ritual.  I ask my long standing students to help me.  I shout out, “What happens if you get the choreography wrong?”  My students reply, “Nothing!  It doesn’t matter!”  I shout out, “What if it hurts when I do this?”  They answer, “Stop doing it!”  I ask, “Who’s class is this?”  My students answer, “MY Class!”

I then remind the students that it is okay for them to modify any move that isn’t working for them and to ask for help if they need it.  I give them a “safety move” like gently marching in place they should feel free to do when they get stuck.  And I remind them that they can feel free to use any of the sturdy chairs located throughout the room to do a movement or even just rest in a chair whenever they feel they need to.  I work VERY hard to create an exercise space where my students feel emotionally safe doing whatever they need to do to take care of themselves.

fatchickchirps.004-002Although creating this emotionally safe space helps my students feel good about themselves, I don’t do it for that reason alone.  I do it to keep them physically safe as well.  A class culture based on “no pain no gain”, where students are discouraged to tough it out and not take care of themselves is risky and can be downright dangerous.  Teaching students to ignore the messages their bodies are sending is the absolute LAST thing we should do.

fatchickchirps.003-002I want students in my class to look different from one another.  A class where students are modifying moves and resting from time to time and approaching the movement in different ways is good and healthy.  It means the class is challenging enough for the more advanced students to get something out of it while being a safe place for less advanced students to increase strength, stamina and agility–gently and gradually.  It means everybody is working at their own pace and having a good time.  Which is as it should be.  When students come to me and tell me that they are in pain, that is a signal for me to make some changes to my class.  How can I teach that move differently?  How can I make sure everybody is working at their own pace?  How can I remind the students about body alignment and positioning to make them less likely to get hurt?  How can I make my class better?

As I have stated before, this is why it is often best to just watch the first time you encounter a new class.  Don’t wait until after you are in the middle of a testosterone-fueled judgement festival to determine that a class might not be for you.  Don’t put yourself in a situation where you might let embarrassment push you into hurting yourself–perhaps permanently.  Watch and learn.  If your gut tells you that this is a judgement zone that is not emotionally safe–then walk away.  If the class isn’t emotionally safe for you, it’s not safe.  Period.

We tell people that exercise should hurt and feel awful.  We tell them that listening to their own bodies is wrong and that they should push it until they puke.  We tell them that getting injured is a sign of their own weakness and that real exercisers don’t let sprains or stress fractures stop them.  THEN we wonder why half the world doesn’t exercise.

Fugeddabout it!

Find a way that your body loves to move and do that.  When it stops feeling good, and it starts to hurt, then stop.  Forever and ever, Amen.


Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

How do I know when I’m exercising hard enough?


This question can be a bit difficult for beginners to navigate.  Given all the mixed messages we’ve heard about exercise from the notion that working out feels like being kissed by angels to the notion that all real exercise is accompanied by excruciating pain, it’s a little tough to know just how you should feel while working out.

As with most things,the truth is somewhere in the middle.  You should feel like you are expending some energy as you exercise.  At the same time, you should not be experiencing pain as you exercise either.  And the way you feel during exercise will also be impacted by what type of exercise you are doing, how familiar you are with that form of exercise and what fitness goals you are trying to achieve.  Let me give you a basic rundown based on exercise type.


Aerobic Exercise:  During this form of exercise, the goal is to raise  your heart rate and sustain it at a slightly elevated level during your workout.  There’s lots of information available about what heart rate you should reach and not exceed.  But I find for most people, it is more helpful to use the “Rate of Perceived Exertion) or RPE to determine their appropriate exercise levels.  I like to use a tool I call the “sweat scale” to determine your RPE.  If you imagine a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being how you feel when you are sitting on the sofa watching TV and eating cheezy poofs and 10 being how you feel when you are working out so hard you feel like somebody better call 911 because you are having a heart attack, we generally want to work out at between 6 and 8 on this scale to achieve maximum benefit from your workout.  This generally feels like you are working moderately hard.  You are breathing more deeply than usual, but not gasping for air.  You should be able to speak in short sentences, but you probably can’t sing while you are working at this level.  You are usually pretty sure you can keep exercising another 5 minutes at this level, but not sure you can work out another half hour or more.  Now you don’t have to work out at this level to be aerobic.  Any level over your normal resting level can count towards aerobic exercise.  But you generally don’t want to work out over this level for any sustained level of time.

One thing you’ll want to be very aware of as you exercise are any “warning signs” or what I call “dashboard indicators” from your body that let you know that something is wrong.  If you are unfamiliar with exercise “warning signs” please go here on my website and read the “Five Things You Should Know Before You Work Out” article.  It is really important to know this stuff, and it can save your life.


Flexibility Training: This very important, but often overlooked type of exercise encompasses such practices as yoga and stretching.  Flexibility training not only makes it easier to move around, but also helps you avoid falls and prevent injuries in everyday life.  The key to flexibility exercise is to move your body to a point of gentle tension but not pain.  A good stretch feels a little bit like a yawn.  Your body reaches and expands, you feel a pleasant sense that you are moving your body a bit beyond it’s average range and you feel a gentle tug in your muscles.  Once again, this should not feel painful.  With this form of exercise, it’s particularly important to tune in and pay attention to the messages your body is giving you.  You may even wish to keep a journal and write down how various stretches feel to you, so you can get a sense of what works well for you in your practice.  Remember that in general you want to do static stretches, where you move your body into position and hold the stretch for ten to fifteen seconds.  Bouncing as you stretch or “ballistic stretching” can easily move your body outside of a good range of motion and lead to injury.


Strength Training: Also called resistance training, this is where you use some sort of resistance to help build muscle mass and make you stronger.  This resistance can come in the form of weights (everything from dumbbells to water bottles), elastic bands (also called resistance bands), weight machines (including nautilus, and other cable systems) or even just the pull of gravity against your body (including things like crunches and squats).  Strength training is also a time when it is particularly important to tune into your body’s messages.  Good strength training should make you feel a gentle burn or warmth in your muscle.  It should be clear that your body is doing extra work, but you should not feel pain.  You also shouldn’t feel a sense of impending loss of muscle control.  If you are exercising alone and without a trainer, you probably don’t want to work your muscle to exhaustion, where your muscles begin to shake and it’s clear you can’t do one more rep.  That said, it’s quite normal for your muscles to feel tired after a certain number of reps.  Remember to check out that document on my website, and familiarize yourself with the exercise warning signs.

When you are first starting out, it’s pretty normal to feel some confusion about how hard you should be exercising.  This is a place where working with a personal trainer or group exercise instructor can really help.  Even if you can’t afford to work with a trainer for months on end, you could meet with a trainer for a few sessions, just to learn what your body can do and make sure you’ve gotten off to a good start.

But no matter how you approach it, remember to listen to your body and do what feels best for you.

Love, Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Looking for a little help?  How about joining my personal training program?  Prices are going to go up in January, so why not lock into some holiday savings right now?

P.P.S. Want to get access to FREE STUFF?  Just opt in RIGHT HERE!

Thursday Theater: Exercise for People of Size

Steppin’ out can include stepping into an exercise program. In this week’s video I talk about how to maintain physical and emotional safety while exercising in a big body.

So my dear feathered friends, find some exercise birds to flock with and shake your collective groove things!

The Fat Chick